The use of barcodes on banknotes


Ever since the invention of banknotes, there have been people trying to make counterfeit notes and thus, cheat the system.

It has been necessary, critical even, to put into place security and safety measures to try to thwart the efforts of these criminals and ensure the validity and authenticity of each banknote.  This will ensure a stable, healthy economy.

One of the safety measures that have been put into place is that each note is printed with a serial number on it.  This practice has been a means to determine and prevent counterfeit notes being created.   On the very first banknotes, this serial number was written directly onto the banknote by the banking clerk.  Over the centuries, this has changed and the notes are printed with its individual serial number on it.   This article is about the introduction of a new way of fighting counterfeit money by printing barcodes SA on individual banknotes.

The means to determine whether a banknote has been counterfeited are complicated.  They involve the following mechanisms such as comparison of images, scanning technology, optical detection.  The cost of these mechanisms and measures are very high.  Therefore, not all organisations can afford it.  Small businesses or retailers will not be able to make use of these measures to protect themselves.

The Dutch National Bank has been at the forefront of each new development in currency exchange and regulation.   They were the first organisation that started printing machine readable numbers on their banknotes, this was in 1968.  This heightened the authenticity and individuality of each banknote, thus making it easier to detect counterfeit money.

In 1989, they were also the first organisation to introduce barcoding technology to their banknotes.  QR codes as well as EAN & UPC barcodes are being printed onto banknotes on an experimental basis.  This is done for the following reasons:

  • To detect and prevent counterfeit notes from circulating. Each note has its own unique code that is registered on an international database.  Should a second banknote show up with the same barcode, it will be clear that this is a counterfeit banknote.
  • To prevent internal and external fraud. Banks often have to deal with major losses due to internal as well as external fraud.  Using barcodes on banknotes means that these banknotes can be traced and the perpetuator caught.   This makes the entire banking environment much safer.
  • To register banknotes for Ransom money. By placing individualised barcodes on banknotes used as ransom money, this makes these notes unique.  In turn, this enables the police to trace this money and apprehend the criminal as soon as he uses this money in the future.
  • To ensure that the banknotes are of high quality.
  • Tracking banknotes while they are in circulation allows the government to determine how far these banknotes travel. This information will help with future planning of currency regulations.  It can also determine how much South African currency leaves the country.

There are several advantages of using barcodes for this purpose.  Barcodes, especially Quick Response barcodes are able to store a significant amount of data in a very small amount of space.  They look smart and it is very difficult to duplicate them.  Barcodes are efficient and cheap to reproduce.

The height of the barcode that is printed on banknotes is 7.5 mm high.  The smallest bar needs to be 0.3mm wide.  This will enable the barcode to be printed via letterpress print techniques.  The background of the note can still be in colour. There must just be a high contrast between the code and the background behind it.  This is to ensure that the bar code scanner can scan the code effectively.  It is important to use top quality barcodes in order to avoid problems in the future.

Barcode Scanners were developed that can read barcodes on banknotes effectively and at very high speed. These scanners can read 14 banknotes per second.  This saves time and money.

Information that can be included in the barcode on each banknote includes the following:

  • Date of manufacture
  • Place of manufacture
  • Unique Serial Number
  • Denomination

The one disadvantage of using barcodes on banknotes is that it cannot be read by humans. It is necessary to use a barcode scanner to access the information contained within the barcode.  However, barcode scanners are readily available and are affordable.  This makes the whole process easier and cost effective verses other methods of preventing counterfeit money from circulating.

Barcode Solutions is proud to play our part in combating counterfeit money.  We provide very high quality barcodes and you won’t go broke in the process of acquiring them.  Our customer service is fantastic and we will assist you throughout the process of buying barcodes for your business, here in South Africa as well as overseas.